United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories

This is the seventh in a series of articles by Palestine & The UN regarding U.N. committees, bodies and programmes dealing specifically with the question of Palestine or assistance to the Palestinian people. The articles have focused on their establishment, as well as their histories, mandates, work and compositions. The six previously reviewed have been: The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), UNDPís Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, and United Nations Childrenís Fund (UNICEF) Programme for Palestinian Children and Women. The seventh and last to be reviewed in this series is the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories (UNSCO).


On 21 December 1993, the General Assembly adopted by consensus resolution 48/213, entitled "Assistance to the Palestinian People," in support of the Declaration of Principles agreement, which was signed on 13 September 1993 between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The U.N. Secretary-General recognized that social and economic advancement for the Palestinian people was essential for the success of the peace process and decided to form a High Level Task Force on the Socio-Economic Development of the Gaza Strip and Jericho. The Task Force was established to identify ways the U.N. could expand its programs of assistance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In this regard, it emphasized the need to implement projects that would make an immediate, visible improvement in the daily lives of the Palestinian people.

On 1 October 1993, over 40 donor countries and institutions, including the U.N., gathered at the Washington D.C. Conference to Support Middle East Peace and affirmed the urgent need for improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Donors pledged approximately $2.4 billion to be disbursed over the 5-year transitional period. During the Conference, the decision was made to enhance the U.N.ís presence and involvement during the transitional period of the peace process. As a result, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories was established by the Secretary-General with the General Assembly approving budgetary allocations.

Accordingly, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Ambassador Terje Larsen of Norway as Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories on 28 May 1994, and he served in the post until 1996. During this important phase of the implementation of the interim agreements, the Special Coordinator played a significant role in providing the international donor community with an effective mechanism for cooperation and implementation of a number of social and economic development projects. In many of its resolutions, the General Assembly welcomed the appointment of the Special Coordinator and expressed appreciation for the Officeís work.

In October 1999, Mr. Larsen resigned his post and returned to Norway to assume a cabinet post. Mr. Chinmiya Gharakhan was then appointed as the second Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories. His appointment came at a very difficult period for the peace process, when economic and social conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, were deteriorating. Nevertheless, Mr. Gharakhan played an important role in the coordination of the assistance to the Palestinian people at the time, including in the efforts to alleviate the social and economic hardships resulting from the policies and practices of the Israeli government under Mr. Netanyahu. Such policies included the closure of the Palestinian Territories, which restricted the movement of Palestinian persons and goods, and the illegal expansion and building of colonial settlements. Mr. Gharakhan completed his term and retired from U.N. service on 30 September 1999.

With the defeat of Mr. Netanyahu and the Likud party and the election of Ehud Barak as the new Prime Minister, the international community and the parties to the Middle East conflict were optimistic about the revival and conclusion of the Middle East peace process. The new Israeli administration and the highly engaged Clinton administration brought renewed promise to the efforts to end years of conflict and struggle. Similarly, the U.N. was also ready and prepared to take the opportunity provided by the new international climate to play a more active role in the peace process.

In this context, the Secretary-General reconfigured the mission of the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, whose title was changed to United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. The Secretary-General wrote a letter to the President of the Security Council on 10 September 1999, informing the Security Council of his intention "to appoint Mr. Terje Larsen of Norway as the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and my Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority as of 1 October 1999."

The Secretary-General further wrote that the "functions assigned to the new United Nations Special Coordinator take into account recent encouraging developments in the Middle East peace process, in particular the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the prospects for renewed talks in other bilateral tracks." He noted that in the Middle East, as elsewhere, socio-economic development was an essential underpinning of peace. The new Special Coordinator was to be charged with making appropriate preparations within the U.N. system for enhancing U.N. development assistance in support of the peace process. The purpose was to establish a focal point for the U.N. in order to ensure integrated and coordinated activity in support of the peace process.

This was followed by another letter by the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council dated 9 November 1999. In this letter, the Secretary-General informed the members of the Council that, based on his discussions with the parties and others concerned, it was likely that the role of the U.N., especially in the area of assistance to refugees and regional development activities, would be raised by the parties themselves in the forthcoming rounds of negotiations. Therefore, the Secretary-General informed the Council about his decision to establish "a unified structure in the region with a clearly recognized focal point for the Organization's contributions to the implementation of the peace agreements and with overall responsibility for making appropriate preparations, in consultation with the parties to the Madrid process and the wider international community, for enhancing United Nations assistance." At the same time, the Secretary-General asked the Special Coordinator to reconfigure the existing office based in Gaza and requested additional resources to accomplish this.

The Palestinian and Arab Missions to the U.N. found that the Secretary-Generalís letter raised some questions regarding the existing mandates of U.N. agencies in the region, including UNRWA, UNDP and UNICEF for example. As such, they sought and received formal clarifications in a letter from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs that assured the Arab Group that the Secretary-Generalís letter did not imply any change in the existing mandates. It was at that time the President of the Security Council responded positively to the letter of the Secretary-General. The Presidentís letter was then used in the budgetary process to acquire the additional necessary resources.

The new post of the Special Coordinator continued to be based in Gaza and to encompass the old functions and responsibilities among other tasks. For example, in addition to his responsibilities relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Special Coordinator also represents the Secretary-General in discussions with the parties and the international community in all matters related to continuing U.N. support for the peace process. He also coordinates U.N. development assistance related to the peace process in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Moreover, the Special Coordinator played an especially important and indispensable role in facilitating and coordinating the U.N.ís activities regarding the drawing of the "Blue Line" following the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. This constructive role by the U.N. Special Coordinator enhanced U.N. credibility as the most effective and trusted mechanism to oversee the implementation of the Israeli withdrawal as well as an indispensable mechanism for the Middle East peace process. This was seen as a new beginning and opportunity for the U.N. to become more actively engaged in the Middle East peace process.

Lastly, the Special Coordinator has continued to play an important role during the current crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially at the level of representing the Secretary-General with the parties and at the level of coordinating the critical and emergency assistance to the Palestinian people. Moreover, the reports and documents issued by the Office of the Special Coordinator with regard to the economic and social hardships of the Palestinian people as a result of the Israeli closures and violent and illegal policies and practices represent invaluable resources documenting the suffering of the Palestinian people under the continuing Israeli occupation.